Why Did the BBC Pull Jerusalem Documentary?

The Times of Israel reports on a storm that has erupted following the BBC’s last-minute decision to drop a documentary that questions the extent of the Jewish exile after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. According to TOI:

The film “Exile: A Myth Unearthed,” which theorizes that many modern-day Palestinians could be partially descended from Jews who never left the region, was due to be shown in modified form by the BBC last week, but was pulled from the schedule at the last moment.

Explaining how the film had been re-titled “Jerusalem: an Archaeological Mystery Story,” filmmaker Ilan Ziv alleged BBC sources had said a freelance editor hired to re-cut the film called it “propaganda.”

Ziv has criticized the BBC’s decision on his own blog but I was able to procure a copy of the original film, which is available from the National Film Board of Canada, in order to make my own judgment. This, particularly in light of some accusations that the BBC had succumbed to “unnamed pressure groups,” which is usually a thinly veiled reference to “Jews” or “Zionists.”

Four observations, having watch the full unedited version:

  1. The challenge to the Jewish historical and theological narrative of an exile after the destruction of the Second Temple does not negate the fact that a continuous and uninterrupted Jewish presence existed in the Land of Israel from that period to the present day. If anything, it confirms it.
  2. Questioning the Jewish or Israeli narrative has never been an issue for the BBC (or anyone else for that matter) in the past. What makes this particular documentary too controversial for the BBC?
  3. The thesis that some Palestinians may actually be the descendants of Jews who lived in what is today Israel and converted to Islam centuries ago may be controversial and unappealing to both Jews and Palestinians but it is not the first time that this has been suggested.
  4. Indeed, could such a theory be more damaging to a Palestinian national movement that has consistently sought to deny Jewish history and claims to the land?

Was the BBC, in fact, more concerned at upsetting anti-Israel elements by showing a film with such a heavy concentration on Jewish history in the Land of Israel?

The BBC does not have a history of pulling content due to the concerns of Israel or the UK’s Jewish community. Quite the opposite in fact. This particular documentary also focuses on Israel’s War of Independence and paints a picture of Palestinian villages erased from the map by Israel as a result of the war. While this may not be comfortable viewing for supporters of Israel, it is certainly no worse than other critical pieces that have appeared on the BBC.

One suspects that the outcry that is taking place is not only a result of the BBC’s incompetence but also driven by people who have not viewed the film but have rather, already jumped to conclusions as to what it contains and those who are already assuming that “Zionists” are responsible for getting it pulled.

A look at the comments section of the Radio Times (the BBC’s listings magazine) gives some examples:

Perhaps the film will be shown eventually in a re-edited form. In the meantime, we await a credible response from the BBC as to why it did not appear last week when originally scheduled.